Meyer, Kuno (1858–1919), Celtic scholar, philologist, and translator, was born 20 December 1858 in Hamburg, north Germany, second among four children of Eduard Meyer, a classical historian of some repute, and Henrietta Meyer. Kuno first attended the Siemsenschen Privatschule and then the Johanneum, where his father taught, to study classics. He left school at 15, and during 1874–6 he lived in Edinburgh as amanuensis and reader to a blind German scholar, during which time he acquired a knowledge of English. He also visited the Isle of Arran, where he acquired a knowledge of Scots Gaelic. In 1879 he attended Leipzig university to study Germanic languages and comparative philology, under the great celticist Ernst Windisch (qv). During 1880–81 he was Hauslehrer to the Arnold family in Lowestoft, Suffolk. In 1881 he published his first contribution to Celtic studies, an edition of Macgnímartha Find (‘The boyhood deeds of Fionn’), in Revue Celtique, v. Around the same time, he began to correspond with Whitley Stokes (qv). In 1882 he completed a year as an einjahrig-Freiwilliger (military volunteer). When still a young man, he contracted rheumatic fever, which later developed into rheumatoid arthritis, causing him progressively greater pain and discomfort for the rest of his life. Remarkably, this did not otherwise detract either from his affable personality or from his prolific scholarly output – thirty books, and contributions to journals amounting to more than 1,000 pages.
Meyer completed his doctoral thesis, ‘Eine irische Version der Alexandersage’, in 1884, and in the same year he received his first appointment as a lecturer in German in Liverpool university, replacing Wilhelm Victor. He remained there for twenty-seven years as lecturer and then professor (1895–1912), and he established through his classes in Irish and Welsh an interest in Celtic studies there, which lasted for many years. In the year after his appointment – which was supported by John Rhys, professor of Celtic at Oxford – he published an edition of the saga ‘Cath Finntragha’, and in the years following a continuous stream of publications came from his pen, establishing his reputation as one of the foremost celticists of his day. In 1896 he founded the Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie in Germany with Ludwig Stern, which thereafter became one of the foremost journals of Celtic studies. Together with John Strachan (qv), he founded the School of Irish Studies in 1903, to train a new generation of native Irish scholars, the lack of which Meyer felt so keenly. It continued in existence till 1924, and was visited by many distinguished scholars such as Rudolf Thurneysen (qv) and Holger Pedersen (qv), who gave summer courses at it. In 1904 the School began the publication of its journal Ériu. The existence of the School and its publications established the international importance of Dublin as a centre of Celtic studies. Meyer very frequently visited Dublin to give series of Todd lectures at the request of the RIA. He was also known for his involvement with one of the founders of the Gaelic League, Douglas Hyde (qv), and with George Moore (qv) and others involved in the Anglo-Irish literary revival in the 1890s and early 1900s. His sensitive and beautiful translations from Old Irish poetry and saga inspired W. B. Yeats (qv) and other figures of the revival in their literary work. In particular, his remarkable translations of Aisling Meic Conglinne (1892), The voyage of Bran son of Febal to the Land of the Living (1895), a tale of a voyage to the otherworld, and King and hermit: a colloquy between King Guaire of Aidne and his brother Marban, a collection of Middle Irish nature poetry, created an international interest in Irish literature and brought many young scholars into the arena of Celtic studies.
In 1911 Meyer obtained the chair of Celtic in Berlin University in succession to Windisch. A Miscellany to honour his inestimable contribution to Irish, and Celtic studies generally, was published in the following year in Halle. In 1912 he obtained the freedom of the cities of Dublin and Cork but was stripped of both in 1915 for his pro-German wartime propaganda. He was removed from his posts as director of the School and as editor-in-chief of Ériu for the same reason.
During the first world war he went on the American lecture circuit, lecturing at the universities of Harvard and Illinois, among many others. He was injured in a train accident in 1915, and was nursed back to health by Mrs Florence Lewis, whom he subsequently married. They travelled back to Europe in 1916 and then separated. He died suddenly in Leipzig on 11 October 1919, at the age of 60. His death was hastened, no doubt, by the grief he felt at Germany's defeat and its humiliation after the war. In 1920 he was restored posthumously to the freedoms of the cities of Dublin and Cork. His fellow celticist R. I. Best (qv) said of Meyer that he had ‘a profound belief in the dignity and importance of Celtic studies, especially Irish, the oldest of all West-European vernaculars’, and fittingly described him as ‘a missionary of Celtic learning, endeavouring to rouse interest and win disciples’ (Ériu, ix, 181).